Getting Unstuck When Big Dreams and Personal Risk Collide

by Alli Polin on February 21, 2017

Going big is freaking scary and takes a lot of work too. You may fall hard and painfully, you may fail spectacularly, or you may just fizzle out; none of which is very appealing. For 99% of the population, the risk associated with change is a favorite excuse to stay stuck right where they are. Big dreams take a backseat and life moves on.

When Big Dreams and Personal Risk Collide = Excuses

I have a friend who always talks about the business she’s going to start. In fact, she talks about her product lines in great detail as she spends every night before she goes to sleep obsessing about it. I’ve known her for over a decade, and her business ideas have never gotten lift-off beyond shared aspirations over a cup of coffee.

“I need to focus on the kids.”

“I don’t have enough time.”

Another friend that wrote a book, a lifelong dream. He didn’t edit it much because his words “flowed,” as if divinely written. After ignoring feedback from his beta readers, because he believed in the content and composition, he declared it complete and sent it to one agent. When he didn’t hear back six months later, he gave up on it. In fact, he never wrote another word.

“I didn’t care about it that much.”

“I’ve moved on.”

A client who was miserable at work decided it was time to move on to a new job. Tired of the corporate game, she decided to start her own business. Let me tell you, the vision board she lovingly created was fabulous, detailed, inspirational. She finally found a workable space for her new venture and was ready to rock and roll. At the start of our next coaching call, she told me it was too expensive. Maybe she should stick with her current job for now.

“It’s not so bad where I am.”

“I can’t afford my dream.”

Another client wanted to change fields. He worked in recruiting for his entire career, but for the past few years realized he’s much more passionate about sales. When he went on sales calls and was in front of the client with the Business Development team, he felt alive. Maybe it was time to give up his desk and focus on BD. Unfortunately, they had a much lower base salary with most of their income dependent on commission.

“I’m experienced. I can’t just walk away.”

“I have a mortgage.”

It’s More than Excuses Keeping You Stuck

Excuses are easy. They protect you from feeling what’s underneath the excuse. The fear that you could play big, put yourself out there, risk everything and still fail? Yikes.

What If You Kept Going Through the Pain?

When you start a new business, write a book, change jobs, it can be a painful process to get from where you are today to where you want to be. In my experience, there are a lot of people who stop before they even start, another handful that plain old give up on their goals forever.

Let’s play out another scenario.

Julie had gained 25 pounds since the birth of her third child. She felt stuck at home and didn’t recognize her reflection in the mirror anymore and decided to buy a FitBit. At first, she pushed herself to increase her daily steps by dancing around while doing daily chores but it wasn’t enough to hit her goal.

In the early mornings before her husband left for work, she decided she’d start running. Initially, she could barely make the loop around her neighborhood. She was constantly sore and bitten up by little bugs. Fast forward one year later, and she completed her first marathon. Now, two years in she’s traveled the world running in high profile marathons and completed her first ultramarathon.

What’s the difference between Julie and the book writer, the BD wanna-be, the not-now entrepreneur?

She didn’t stop or give in to the fear. She found her limits and kept on going.

Sounds easy. Too easy, right?

If I want to go after a big dream I should just do it?

Life is not that simple.

You’re right. It’s not. But what if…

Instead of Excuses, Try Permission

* You don’t have to quit your job tomorrow to get started today.

* Stop worrying about what other people think and how they’ll judge your choices.

* Do something instead of doing nothing. What’s your next step?

* Stop your thinking cycle and take action. It’s easy to ruminate forever.

* Put yourself out there again with the lessons learned from last time.

* Give yourself time to ramp up before you make the big leap. Ever hear of small steps?

* Make one hard choice today which will pave the way for another hard one tomorrow instead of thinking it’s all or nothing NOW.

* Don’t let your dream follow you for the rest of your life like a shadow.

Honor yourself and your big dreams.

So for you… is it fear of failure, of success, of looking silly, of people asking you questions, what? Isn’t it time you figured out the answer?

You are capable of so much, don’t let the devil on your shoulder tell you what’s possible. Flick him off and tell yourself. You decide if your big dreams will become pipe dreams or not.

Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

If you’re ready to break free from your excuses and the fear, let’s talk

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon Mertz February 21, 2017 at 7:11 am


We need to begin. When we do, amazing and unexpected things happen. Without taking the first step, we will never know. We need to begin to pull the threads of our life and see what weaves together.



Alli Polin February 21, 2017 at 8:48 am

Beautiful image, Jon. Truly, until we begin, we’re only guessing what’s possible.




Terri Klass February 21, 2017 at 9:35 am

I love your post and the way you challenge us to face our fears head on! I find that writing my goals down and breaking them into smaller, more manageable steps can often propel me out of a ditch. Tackling a big hairy goal can thwart the best of us just as a mini goal can dissuade us from any movement. What a great idea to give ourselves permission. Yup!
Definitely will share your wonderful ideas, Alli! Thank you!


Alli Polin February 22, 2017 at 5:53 am

Breaking down big scary goals into steps is a great way to make progress without psyching ourselves out. Still, when you take steps, you eventually come to the edge of significant change. Some people choose to leap when others turn back. It takes a heck of a lot of courage to go all in.

Thanks, Terri!



John Bennett February 21, 2017 at 12:47 pm

Great post, Alli!!! What popped into my mind while Considering it was two incidents that happened when I was a research engineer before becoming engineering faculty. First, not long after I started my research engineer efforts, each employee was sent their ‘retirement status and projection.’ I remember at least five other research engineers (all roughly my age at the time, about 27) spending hours / days probably studying their information and planning their retirement – really, about FORTY years before it would happen. They had clearly decided they were going to avoid risk and work – at the same place – toward graduation. Now, approaching 50 years later, that’s what they did… Wonder if a single employer for a career is possible today???

The second occurred as I left industry to join the faculty at the University of Connecticut. Originally, this was thought to be a good path to my ultimate goal as an engineering consultant. (Aside: Giving my best to teaching, I quickly changed that goal to being an effective professor – research and teaching; only possible by engaging fully…) At least three industry colleagues said something to me like “I envy you making this change; I would like very much to Consider something similar – but I could never do such a thing! I have too much to loose!!!” We were in our mid-30s at the time.


Alli Polin February 22, 2017 at 5:57 am

Thanks for sharing your experience, John. Funny enough, I know a few people who are still with the same company I started with after undergrad. Nearly 25 years later, they’re not going anywhere. I like to think that’s because the business and the work evolved, however, it tells me a lot about them too.

I also appreciate something about you – you are someone who does not do something halfway. When you started teaching it was to forward your consulting but then realized to give your best, you had to be all-in. It’s interesting how when you chose to make the leap other people were brought face to face with their own fears. (and probably big time judgement about your move).

Thanks so much, John!



Chery Gegelman February 21, 2017 at 4:23 pm

Inspiring post Alli! We decide. Today. What tomorrow and the next day and the next year hold.


Alli Polin February 22, 2017 at 5:51 am

The key is to decide and take that step… no matter how much it scares us.

Thanks, Chery!


LaRae Quy February 21, 2017 at 8:16 pm

As they say, the only ones who like change are babies and that’s because they know what to expect…


Alli Polin February 22, 2017 at 5:50 am

Ha! Plus, they have no choice and really can’t stop it no matter what they do. Then again, kind of sounds familiar 🙂


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